What’s my tax filing status after death of my spouse?

 

Your options for your tax filing status if your spouse dies will change depending on how long ago they passed away. For example, you can generally use married filing jointly in the year your spouse passes. Then in the next two years, you can file as a qualifying widow(er) if you meet certain requirements.

Losing your spouse can be a distressing experience. And having to work through how your loss impacts you at tax time is no welcome task. Fortunately, the IRS has provisions in place to help with the change to your tax filing status.

Why is your filing status important? The status you use determines your income tax rate and standard deduction. If you’re a recent widow(er), you should file your taxes using the filing status that provides the lowest tax bill.

Filing status options after the death of a spouse

Let’s review the various filing statuses you may use if your spouse dies and your eligibility to use them.

What is my filing status if my spouse dies

Married filing jointly

You can still use married filing jointly with your deceased spouse for the year of death — unless you remarry during that year.

Remarriage

If you remarry in the year of your spouse’s death, you can’t file jointly with your deceased spouse. However, you can use married filing jointly with your new spouse. You and your new spouse can also each use married filing separately. If a return is then also required for your deceased spouse, use the married filing separately status.

For tax years before 2018 and after 2025, a surviving spouse with no gross income, can be claimed as an exemption on both of these:

  • Your deceased spouse’s separate return
  • Your new spouse’s separate return

However, if you file jointly with your new spouse, you can claim an exemption only on that joint return.

Qualifying widow(er)

If you qualify, you can use this filing status for the two tax years after the death of your spouse. However, you can’t use it for the year of death.

To qualify, you must meet these requirements:

  • You qualified for married filing jointly with your spouse for the year he or she died. (It doesn’t matter if you actually filed as married filing jointly.)
  • You didn’t remarry before the close of the tax year in which your spouse died.
  • You have a child, stepchild, or adopted child you claim as your dependent. This doesn’t apply to a foster child.
  • You paid more than half the cost of maintaining your home. This must be the main home of your dependent child for the entire year, except for temporary absences.

What is the standard deduction for a widow?  The qualifying widow(er) standard deduction is the same as married filing jointly. Although there are no additional tax breaks for widows, using the qualifying widow status means your standard deduction will be double the single status amount.

Filing as single

Unless you qualify for something else, you’ll usually file as single in the year after your spouse dies. You might not qualify as a qualifying widow(er) if your child is a foster child. In that case, you’ll likely be able to use head of household status.

Assistance for determining your filing status if your spouse dies

If you need help understanding your options, one of our knowledgeable tax pros can help. Simply visit one of our tax offices and we’ll walk you through your return.

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